U.S. Sen. Susan Collins did not attend a town hall meeting April 20 in Thomaston.

If she had, she would have faced a crowd of 165 people packed into the meeting room at Watts Hall. Many of those who did attend the meeting took turns at the podium asking questions of their senator and raising concerns about issues including climate change, health care, the potential for war, cuts to the EPA and grave misgivings about President Donald Trump.

Chief among the questions was why Collins will not meet with the group in a town hall public meeting. The questions were addressed to an empty chair on the stage that would have been Collins' seat if she had participated.

James Cook of Rockport, a member of the activist group Midcoast Maine Indivisible, said the group's requests for the meeting began 92 days prior, on Jan. 19. He said this request was greeted first with no response from Collins, then with messages that Collins did not have time in her schedule for the meeting, and finally, more recently, with messages that she would be willing to meet with no more than eight individuals on the condition that questions be given to her in advance.

The Republican senator's office responded to the criticism in an email April 21:

"We never asked for questions to be submitted in advance. Hard stop. Never happened," said Annie Clark of Collins' staff.

 

"Senator Collins is incredibly accessible. To suggest otherwise is simply false," she said.

Clark said Collins has offered to meet with Midcoast Maine Indivisible in a video conference, but the group never responded to that offer. She said video conference is a tool often used so the senator is always accessible to her constituents, even when she is in Washington, D.C., for votes.

"That lack of response [from Midcoast Maine Indivisible] is curious to me — and surprising, given that such a meeting is an opportunity to directly raise concerns with Sen. Collins," Clark said. "It doesn't make sense to me why this meeting offer would have been ignored."

Cook on April 24 and 25 stated that his group did respond to Sen. Collins' office. He also said he was told by a member of Collins' staff, who was not Clark, that they would like to see the questions in advance.

Specifically, he said that on Feb. 17, he met with Carol Woodcock of Collins' Bangor office and was offered a meeting on a single topic for 6-8 members of the group with questions submitted in advance.

Questioned about this, Clark responded, saying Woodcock had offered the group an opportunity to list its questions to help Collins' staff try to get the group the information. She said it was not a demand as a condition of meeting with Collins to submit the questions in advance.

"We feel that these claims about the process are inaccurate and look forward to the opportunity to meet with Sen. Collins to demonstrate that with documentation," Cook said. "More importantly, we look forward to all of our members having a chance to meet with Sen. Collins."

Cook said at the town hall meeting that the group had offered to hold this public meeting with her anytime that her schedule is free between now and 2020.

Several of the residents who spoke at the meeting stressed that they were not paid activists. Most were residents from Knox, Lincoln and Waldo County towns.

A number of the speakers asked Collins to work toward the public release of President Trump's tax returns.

Elaine Tucker of Belfast criticized Collins for supporting the appointments of Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary and Judge Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court. Tucker argued that ran contrary to Collins' stated support for women's access to family planning.

"How can I trust you?" Tucker asked the chair.

Diane Russell of Portland also criticized Collins for supporting Sessions, arguing the senator should have followed the example of Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy. Russell talked about the role of women in shaping Maine's history, including the late Samantha Smith, who famously, at age 10, wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to ask if he was going to wage nuclear war with the U.S. Russell said she now fears a new Cold War and nuclear threat due to the current U.S. leadership.

Other issues raised included concerns about immigrants, health care and Medicare.

Catherine Gelsinger served as moderator for the town hall meeting.